Turning on the Hinge

Turning on the Hinge

Have you noticed how films now turn on one hinge? They either portray protagonists as ironic pastiches of former protagonists or they make the protagonist full of human flaws. A hero is now to be revealed in all his messy humanness or he is not to be taken seriously. Bond must show his emotional dark side, his history; Superman and all his superhero friends must make their strength a result of their weakness.

Take Tom Cruise’s film, Knight and Day, a silly romp in which death is funny, love is shallow and character is abolished. Then take The American, George Clooney’s film about the last days of an assassin. Clooney’s character is flawed (he kills nearly everyone he meets). But a melody of goodness is gradually drawn out of it as he discover’s his humanity by falling in love with a prostitute.

The hinge on which both films turn is a simple message of who we are as human beings today. We are no longer like the former heroes of the past; we can no longer be serious about fighting crime, defending the country or taking a stand against evil. When we do this we must do it ironically. We are, rather, more like the assassin – deeply flawed, but always journeying towards the discovery of our inner goodness.

Apart from the obvious moral equivalence here, we are also impinged upon in any differentiation we might want to make. In my own Christian circles this translates into “For so long we have troubled ourselves with theological divisions, fighting over small points of metaphysics, but now we find our common failed/good nature and seek to carry out our great mission together.” This reaches its height in the preaching of the homosexual priest who complains that we are so focused on what an individual does in bed that we have forgotten the important things like world poverty. If only we could focus outside the difference to the commonality, to something beautiful. When anyone strikes out in radical opposition it is permissible only in irony. We move from common goodness/failings to ironic opposition (You are a Calvinist, so you would say that wouldn’t you?) and back again.

We turn on the hinge.

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.